Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kings Go Forth - The Outsiders Are Back (2010)

The soul revival isn't reviving any careers-- it's creating them. Older musicians like Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, and Charles Walker were never exactly household names, not even among record collectors, but now they find themselves with more professional potential in front of them than behind them. Since there is little context for these artists, they aren't obliged to sleepwalk through old hits or old routines. Despite the reliance on old sounds, it's all new. It's an exciting moment for soul music, as albums by Jones, Fields, Walker's the Dynamites, and now Kings Go Forth indicate these older musicians are taking nothing for granted, which lends their music an urgency that transcends mere revivalism.

The musician known as Black Wolf wasn't well known outside the world of cratediggers and soul enthusiasts when he struck up a conversation with Andy Noble, owner of Lotus Records in Milwaukee. During the 1970s, Black Wolf had been a member of the Essentials, a regional soul act whose claim to fame was recording in Curtis Mayfield's studio. He and Noble started a new band and named it Kings Go Forth, after a 1958 Frank Sinatra-Tony Curtis movie. Since then, the 10-member, intergenerational outfit has released a series of 7" singles and gradually but determinedly built a reputation as a dynamic live act, settling easily into complex grooves that highlight Black Wolf's high-flying vocals. Along the way, the band has picked up some notable admirers: Famed disco DJ Tom Moulton, who really did invent the remix, mixed their "Don't Take My Shadow", and D.C. folk artist Mingering Mike, famous for painting covers for imaginary albums, created the artwork for the first Kings Go Forth full-length, The Outsiders Are Back.

This record gathers singles dating back to 2007 yet proves cohesive and consistent. Rather than a collection of mismatched parts, Outsiders sounds like a unified work, even if it does showcase the range of their sound and chops. Kings Go Forth run through soul-revue rave-ups as well as midtempo vocal-group numbers, and they even dabble in reggae on the snaky "1000 Songs". Drummer Jeremy Kuzniar's casually complex beats propel the songs forcefully. From that sturdy foundation, Kings Go Forth build songs full of punchy horns and swelling strings, topping off everything with insistent vocals from Black Wolf, Dan Fernandez, and Matt Norberg. None of the singers has the presence and personality of, say, Sharon Jones, but they compensate by trading off lead and back-up frequently, recalling groups like the Temptations and the Pips one minute and solo soul stirrers like Otis Redding or Lou Rawls the next.

Of course it sounds great: Adherence to period-appropriate production techniques is a bedrock tenet of the soul revival, so the album could be mistaken for a decades-old artifact. That's not an end in itself, but a means of bolstering the band's sound and ratcheting up the tension of their grooves. The horn breakdown on the sped-up "I Don't Love You No More" sounds like all of Michael Masser & Mandrill squaring off against Ali, and "You're the One" bursts out in Technicolor vocals that stretch from Philly all the way to Motown. Outsiders, however, never comes across like a pastiche of old styles and steps. Instead, the urgency of these songs reveals a band anchored strongly in the present but with their eyes toward the future.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tommy T - The Prester John Sessions (2009)

The background of Gogol Bordellos Ethiopian bassist Tommy T may only be an undercurrent for that Gypsy-rockin band, but its given full reign on Tommys solo outing, The Prester John Sessions. The name comes from a mythical figure of the Middle Ages, which Tommy uses as a metaphor for his search through his musical roots on this album. That search takes him through Ethiopian folk
melodies (updated and given a fresh twist), booming, bottom-heavy dub reggae, and the kind of jazzy, funky sounds that popped up when Ethiopian artists began soaking up the music coming out of the U.S. and U.K. in the 70s. On a couple of cuts, Ethiopias own Gigi veteran of the World Music scene and collaborator/wife of Bill Laswell lends her exotic pipes to the swirling, sensual mix of styles, and the Gogol Bordello gang pops up on another. For the most part, though, The Prester John Sessions is an instrumental affair whose insinuating reggae grooves, tasty jazz licks, and churning slices of steamy Ethiopian funk combine for an international experience a lot more resonant and
personal than anything youll find on some Putumayo mix CD.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Beastie Boys - Check Your Head (1992)

The blend of styles on here and ability to swap between moods and textures this effortlessly was probably a big deal to rap music back in 1991. But today, listening to this album fresh with the knowledge of what's happened since, it feels more odd than anything. Still, what's good here is excellent, and what's bad really isn't bad at all, just bizarre. This is an album that, much like Paul's Boutique, begs to be dissected, but for entirely different reasons. On that album, you're trying to discover exactly how The Dust Brothers made it sound the way it does, and trying to figure out where the hell this or that sample came from. Here, it's just to find out what song does what, so you can take the album apart and put it back together in an order that makes more sense. The programming does hurt this album - as the album progresses, the rap tracks are fazed out and the instrumentals take over, and that can't help but be an anticlimax. But hey, let's not complain too much - while their talents may still be up for debate in some quarters, there aren't many artists in hip-hop who've made as many great albums as the Beasties have, and this is another. As far as blending their two previous efforts together goes, they basically succeeded - this is fun, upbeat, and NOT retarded, with a lot for both B-boys and bedroom music lovers to enjoy.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Elizabeth Shepherd - Heavy Falls The Night (2010)

Heavy Falls the Night takes the listener on an unpredictable musical ride. It's hard to pick a favourite track from such an eclectic album but, depending on your taste, it could be the dancefloor ready Seven Bucks, co-produced by Japanese mixmaster DJ Mitsu The Beats (Dwele, Jose James), and inspired by an NFB documentary. Or it could be The Taking - Shepherd’s powerful tribute to the women who came before her – knocked out in Jazz 11/8 time. Or maybe it’s the supremely soulful reworking of Anne Murray's 70s soft-rock radio staple Danny's Song, one of the few secular songs that made it past the gatekeepers in Shepherd's Salvation Army childhood home.

Elizabeth's rhythmically intricate, groove-oriented tunes, sincere lyrics and distinct, soulful voice have earned her a worldwide following, and her fans will certainly not be disappointed by the explorations on this new record. Critics, hipsters and music aficionados from London to Tokyo have been spreading the word for a few years now, and will surely continue to embrace her music. But more importantly, with Heavy Falls the Night, Elizabeth Shepherd is destined to reach music lovers everywhere.


Official Elizabeth website - ES on MySpace - 'Seven Bucks' - 'High'

Thursday, June 3, 2010

V.A. - RED HOT + RIO (1996)

If you love the bossa sound , then I will not have to say anything else about "Red Hot in Rio" other than the list of stunning musicians on this one album is awesome. What about Astrud Gilberto, George Michael, Incognito, Everything but the girl, Tom Jobim, Sting, Herbie Mann, Anna Caram, Flora Purim, Airto, Marisa Monte, Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil to namedrop a few.

This mix of traditional grooves and upfront Brazilian masterpieces would be welcome to any bossa fan but many of the songs have been reworked, like the classic "Corcovado" or the dreamy duet by Astrud and George on Stan Getz’s "Desfinado". Crystal Waters performs a high powered up-tempo version of "The Boy from Ipanema" Tom Jobim teams up with Sting to shine on Tom’s "How Insensitive" which can be found on Jobim’s "Braziliero" set and David Byrne joins Marisa Monte on "Waters of March" which is the theme tune from the movie "The Adventurers" a song made famous by Sergio Mendes in the seventies.

The most beautiful track on the album for me is the stunning "Segurana" featuring "Maxwell" which is a vibes and sax led bolero type midnight groove which is reason itself to buy this collection.

The Incognito / Omar / Anna Caram version of "Agua de Beber" is a flute led light and breezy drifter with traditional Brazilian percussion providing a Nippy Noya / Mamao style backdrop.

It’s hard to produce a Brazilian album without the influence of Tom Jobim and "Red Hot in Rio" is no different. Some purists may say that this is no way to treat the wonderful music and culture that Jobim gave to us but this collection tries to bridge the gap between then and now and in many cases does it wonderfully.

If you have always thought that bossa nova music was too tame and regarded it as "elevator music" then this album may be a way for you to join the millions of already converted bossa fans who enjoy this magical sound